Have the police forgotten Robert Peel’s principles? | Letters

I am disheartened, in these days of a decline in the respect for police governance as a result of well-documented abuses, to see three of England’s most senior officers call for more powers to be given to the service that would undermine the judicial system (Police should be given power to charge suspects, say senior officers in England, 27 February).

These chief constables seem to have forgotten the Peelian principles of policing, specifically the one stating that police “should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary”, which they appear to be doing. Greater confidence in policing will not be gained by a return to a 1980s “right realist” approach that sought to penalise rather than educate, and in doing so led to even more heavy-handed policing against marginalised communities than exists today.

The service should remember Robert Peel’s words: that “the police are the public, and the public are the police”, and that they are only members of the public “who are paid to give full-time attention to duties that are incumbent on every citizen”. The judicial branch of the criminal justice system in a democratic society should operate independently of the police and not be subject to its influence or control.

I will agree with the three chief constables that the criminal justice system as a whole is in need of reform, but perhaps they should focus first on their own agencies: there is enough evidence to show that the British policing model requires reform to bring it into line with 21st-century needs.
Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
Director of policing, criminology and justice, University of East London

It’s clear to working prosecutors that the nostalgic memory of the past presented by three chief constables – who suggest that police should take responsibility for charging decisions from the Crown Prosecution Service – is a poor guide to the present. Prosecutors are now presented with mountains of evidence, from social media to body-worn footage, to examine in order to make charging decisions. We believe that police officers could work with the CPS and do more to improve the quality of case files presented, ensuring evidence is focused and allowing prosecutors to make decisions in a more timely and less resource-intensive way.

The CPS has had responsibility for charging high-level offences and incidents of hate crime for nearly 20 years. During this period, conviction rates have increased and attrition rates dropped, despite challenging budget restraints. The CPS does not investigate crimes or choose which cases to consider. It reviews every case referred to reach a fair, consistent and transparent decision that is independent of the police who have investigated the offence.

Also, with 43 different police forces across England and Wales operating independently of each other, police making charging decisions would risk reimposing a postcode lottery for crime victims.

The chief constables get to the heart of the problem when they say the CPS “do not have the resources or the people to do what they used to”. Both the CPS and the police have suffered significant funding cuts that are having a devastating impact.

Charging decisions for serious crimes must remain with the CPS. It serves no one to return to a system that was proven not to work. It serves everyone, especially victims of crime and their families, for all parts of the criminal justice system to be funded and resourced properly.
Duncan Woodhead
National officer for CPS managers and professionals, FDA union

The police have been banging this particular drum ever since charging was taken away from them. As ever, what is not said is more revealing than what is said. The chief constables do not go into the reasons why charging was given to the Crown Prosecution Service – mainly that the police are not lawyers, while the CPS are.

The chief constables do not go into the numbers of cases that had to be dropped while charging responsibility lay with the police because they had failed to address a key, legal element of a charge, or misinterpreted the law, or simply charged under the wrong law. They do not go into the failures at court, the cases dismissed, the lack of convictions and the crushing disappointment for the victims who have had to give evidence.

It was no surprise to me, as a former specialist prosecutor with the CPS, to see that the chief constables quote statistics to show the drop in the number of cases charged and not the number of convictions. Again what is not said is that the reason they are hung up on charging figures is that this is how, as an organisation, they are judged. All their performance indicators are based on charging figures, not convictions. Of course they want to increase the number of charges.

Here’s a really revolutionary idea: instead of giving charging back to the police, why not set them the same targets as the CPS, ie based on convictions, not charges. That would focus their minds on the quality of the cases they build. If the police and CPS for once had the same ultimate goal, maybe they could even share the journey to get there.
Name and address supplied

The Guardian